Apple draws crowds at its first retail store openings

Hundreds of eager and curious Macintosh users flocked to the grand opening Saturday of Apple Computer Inc.'s first retail store, where some anxious consumers waited hours to be the first in line.

The store, at Tysons Corner shopping mall in Washington suburb McLean, Va., is the first of 25 that will open across the country this year, selling a full line of Apple products and more than 300 third-party software titles. A store in Glendale, Calif., also made its debut Saturday morning.

"The retail division in general is the most exciting place to be right now," said Laura Wynne, Apple's regional director.

The store is split into different sections catering to all types of Mac users, from curious passersby to savvy graphic artists.

The Genius Bar in the back is staffed with Apple experts who serve bottled spring water and help customers with technical questions. If the question is too tough, staff members can pick up the red "Apple hot line," which is a direct link to Apple headquarters.

"People here actually know what they're talking about," said graphic designer Sean Copley, who has been using Apple computers since 1994. "The Genius Bar is probably the coolest part of the store."

All employees go through a monthlong training program at Apple's home base in Cupertino, Calif., and must have great interpersonal skills, said Kathie Calcidise, Apple's vice president of retail stores.

"First of all, I love the store," said Apple store employee Ali Mohan, 28, who was helping customers with software. "I love the Mac. I've been using them for at least six years."

Mohan said customers were especially interested in the company's newest iBooks and whether some third-party software will work with Mac OS X, the company's latest operating system release.

The store also houses a brightly colored children's section, where the youngest of Macintosh users can play games such as Toy Story 2 and Bugdom on Blue Dalmatian and Flower Power iMacs.

"[The store] is pretty cool," said 4-year-old Thacher Shields as he expertly maneuvered the characters in Toy Story 2. "There is real cool stuff here."

But the store's main attraction is the product display, which includes PowerBooks, desktop computers with G4 processors, MP3 players, CD burners, Apple's 22-in. cinema displays and digital cameras, all loaded with programs and available for everyone's use.

"Apple seems to take retail out of the equation," said 24-year-old Patrick Donohue, a proud G4 owner who has been using Macintoshes since he was a child. "It's an interactive experience where customers can actually see their products in action. They have taken a real hands-on approach to selling computers."

Many customers said they agreed that true to Apple's creative and innovative reputation, the store has a lot of style. The brightly lit boutique has a clean and futuristic design. The front windows are made to look like the desktop of Mac OS X.

"It's a Gap with Apple products," Copley said. "There's an aesthetic quality to using a Mac. It only goes without saying that their store would be the same way."

However, longtime Apple user Barbara McCall said she was a little disappointed. "There's no Internet cafe that I can see here," she said. "We need to get more passionate and spread the word. We need to get out that we love it."

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